The Guardian • Issue #2056

Juukun Gorge Revisited

Burrup desecration

Burrup Rock art

Photo: Jussarian – (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Could the destruction of priceless 40,000-year-old art work in the great land of Australia ever happen today? The deliberately planned Juukun cave explosion of 2020 proved it could.

In 2023, the presumptuous removal of rock art sites at Murujuga, on the Burrup Peninsula proved that such cultural vandalism could easily happen once again.

Just as alarming, journalists who try to document such acts of desecration face harassment by police for simply carrying out their professional duty to inform the public.

While taking photographs on public land, lead journalist with Ngaarda Media, Eliza Kloser, first was stopped and questioned by police, only later to have her car searched by a second group of police. Later the same day her accommodation in Karratha was also searched, and an SD card removed from her camera.

Photographs that Ms Kloser had taken of the desecration of sacred sites that was undertaken to construct a controversial $6 billion fertiliser plant and to supply it with gas, fortunately have seen the light of day. Telling evidence!

“I just thought it was ridiculous, it just shocked me a bit how policed it was, the area, and I was stopped so much for just taking photos,” Ms Kloser told The Guardian Australia.

But other journalists recently have been subjected to similar treatment. Jesse Noakes, a Western Australian journalist and anti-Woodside activist was surprised to be served documents by a State Security detective and “politely” told it was a crime not to comply! Mr Noakes had just reported on the case involving environmental activist, Joana Partyka, who was similarly issued with documents in her “secure apartment complex.” Again, the Burrup Peninsula appeared to be a focus of attention.

Given the draconian approach being pursued in Western Australia and now being taken further in South Australia, despite a strong community protest, a police state now looms large.

Where are the ethics in all of this? If the company behaviour involved was truly ethical and above board, why would a crane, for example, need to be brought on site apparently “under the cover of darkness” to carry out its destructive role?

In fact, companies may even be emboldened by relatively minimal penalties and virtual government complicity. Added to this, the criminalisation of protest attempts send a dampening message of deterrence, with journalists and protesters facing harassment, and possible outcomes involving crippling legal expenses, heavy fines or even lengthy jail terms.

No worthwhile community debate has yet been undertaken to allow a wide scale evaluation of capitalistic exploitation over and above the maintenance of ancient heritage sites, invaluable to all Australians, and the rest of humanity.

It all seems to mean that more than ever before a strong and clear formalised First Nations voice is needed to be heard for us to have any hope of protecting heritage sites which may contain some of the oldest and most extensive rock art anywhere in the world.

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